We take pictures to preserve memories, so we can look back on them in the future and reminisce about those moments. I have dozens of photo albums full of pictures from childhood through today. I still print off digital pictures and put them in frames and albums because there’s something special about holding a picture in your hand and not just looking at it on your phone.
Before the digital age, taking pictures was marked by surprise and spontaneity. We had to wait until the entire roll was full before turning it in to get all of our images developed. We’d pick up the envelope and eagerly flip through and see which ones were worth keeping. We didn’t have the option of editing them or curating a collection of only the best images.
I still love pictures today, but in recent years, I’ve let how I look in them impact me and how I think of myself more than I’d like to admit.
Around this time last year, Bill and I were on a trip to Colorado to celebrate our sixth wedding anniversary and his cousin’s wedding. I was feeling more energized than I had felt in months after spending the better part of last year recovering from Epstein-Barr Virus. I was ready for the hours of dancing that was sure to follow the outdoor ceremony because Bill and I love to dance.
It was a beautiful day, and we were taking pictures with a backdrop of the Colorado mountains behind us. The scenery was picturesque and looked like something out of a magazine.
As we prepared to snap some pictures, I remember feeling pretty good about myself. The lack of humidity meant a great hair day, and I was wearing a dress I’d bought the year before at Marshall’s that was comfy (and had pockets). We smiled as someone took a few photos, photos I hoped would be picture perfect, capturing the essence of that moment and the beauty of the day.
I waited until just Bill and I remained.
Then, I looked at the photo.
“YIKES!” I remember thinking, as a feeling of disgust crept up inside of me.
“My arms and legs look so BIG! That dress is TOO short. Rachel, what happened??”
I thought back to three years prior when I was about 20 pounds lighter and satisfied with nearly every picture I took. This picture was not the same person.
I proceeded to crop the photo from the waste down, so no one could see my thunder thighs (yes, we are each our own harshest critic). That way, no one else could judge or critique my not-so-toned body. I posted an image I was sort of okay with on social media.
I remembered not too long ago – only about four years or so – when just about every picture taken of me was worthy of sharing.
No filters or cropping needed.
I was thrilled with how I looked.
What most people didn’t know about those pictures was that I was coming out of a defining part of my health journey, restoring my health after being clinically malnourished. As I’ve shared before, I was concerned about my body and my ability to have kids because I had lost my menstrual cycle for seven months in the midst of my weight loss. That’s the truth about what was behind my smile and that sassy blue dress.
I hadn’t had my big career breakthrough yet. I had barely dipped my toe into the personal and relational growth that I’ve experienced since then.
But, man, did I like how I looked in pictures.
Fast forward to 2017 to the Colorado photo. In all honesty, I hadn’t exercised consistently for over a year, primarily because I was recovering from an acute form of mono and had completely burned out. I was just trying to rebuild enough energy to go about my daily activities, so looking toned and fit wasn’t at the top of my priority list. It wasn’t even on my radar.
Having all of my insecurities shoved into my face as a result of looking at one picture made me feel like I’d been blindsided.
As women, we can feel so insecure when we look at certain pictures of ourselves. We berate ourselves when our face or legs or arms or butt or tummy doesn’t look slim enough. Body shaming is a universal struggle for many of us, yet our perceptions are rarely based in reality.
I’m sure some of you looked at the picture above and did not see anything remotely like what I saw. Maybe you thought, “What is she talking about? She looks fine. She’s just being really hard on herself.”
And you’d be right.
Because our perception is not reality.
I’ve heard women who weigh 125 pounds and women who weigh 185 pounds look at pictures of themselves and say the exact same thing, “Ew, I look fat.”
Instead of living our lives, we spend more time than we’d like to admit cropping, curating, editing and perfecting an image of ourselves and our lives to share on social media.
Do you know what this body shaming does?
It causes us to miss the moment, the joy, the love, the happiness, the people, the experience itself.
I was talking to my husband, Bill, about this over lunch, and he commented that we used to wait and see pictures because it took time for them to develop. Now we can see them immediately, and we can edit them to look more attractive in seconds.
That’s not real life.
Bill is a teacher and commented that his young teacher friends are especially image conscious. When they take group photos, everyone looks at and comments on themselves and how they look in the picture. With all of the pressure from social media and online dating, our images are more carefully curated than ever before. We only want to put forth images of ourselves and our families that look flattering.
Granted, there is nothing inherently wrong with wanting to look good in a picture. It’s totally normal to want physically flattering pictures of ourselves, but our degree of obsession around it is unprecedented.
We let our perspective ruin our pictures and special moments in our lives. We let how we think we look interfere with how we want to live.
Around this time last year, I was talking to a friend who was going through a divorce and had gained a noticeable amount of weight. She doesn’t like to be in pictures with her kids, knowing that other people might see her and judge her.
Do you think her kids cared what their mom looked like, or do you think it mattered more that they were in the pictures with her? When it’s her time to go, do you think her kids will wish they had a more attractive mom or more photos of their mom?
I don’t say this to shame and judge anyone in a similar situation, but I know firsthand what this kind of body shame does to us and to our lives.
When we constantly live out of a place of insecurity, we rob ourselves of living. We shine a little less brightly, love a little less deeply and live a little less fully. The pain of living less fully will eventually surpass the pain of being insecure in our bodies.
Here’s the truth.
The body you have in this moment is yours.
It is a gift from God.
Maybe you’ve neglected it, “let it go”, or forgotten about the importance of loving and honoring it by nourishing it and taking care of it. Maybe you just had a kid or have three kids or lost a loved one or went through a bad breakup or hate your job. Maybe your body is taking the brunt of all of your emotional pain. Maybe you are as harsh as or even harsher than I’ve been in this post when you judge yourself in pictures.
Whatever you are dealing with, you are worthy of living fully and being loved – regardless of how you look.
Regardless of whether we see an extra wrinkle, skin fold, double chin, cellulite, or varicose vein, can we be a little kinder to ourselves and not allow our pictures to define our worth?
The reality is, we can still experience so much love and joy in our bodies, even if they don’t resemble the ideal standard we have in our minds. God can use us and our bodies regardless of what we perceive to be limitations – physical or otherwise.
I want to leave you with one more story about the power of perception and the truth about our bodies.
At the end of last summer, I was seeing a massage therapist who practices “visceral massage.” In other words, she uses her hands to move and release fascial restrictions in my abdomen and pelvis to encourage the normal movement and function of my internal organs. She helped me release some physical stuckness and shared insightful nuggets of wisdom every time we met.
During one session, I had to lay on my side, so she could do work on my back. I noticed my shirt come up a bit and could see my belly generously taking up its space on the massage table. For most of my life, my stomach had always been flat, but now it wasn’t. I felt sad, ashamed and embarrassed.
I shared how I was feeling with her and, at the end of our time together, I showed her a picture of me from an event four years prior, when I was about 25 pounds lighter. I told her how I liked that face more than how my face is now. It was thinner and more attractive, I thought.
She said she liked the “now” me better, and when I made the comment about my face being fuller, she responded in her kind and gentle way with a beaming smile and these words:
“Isn’t that radiant?”
Did she know that “radiant” is one of my words and that it perfectly captured how I want to show up in this world?
She said I was radiant.
I had never thought about it that way, that I may have looked better and more alive, with a fuller face.
I was moved to tears as I let her words lift my broken spirit.
Yes, I am radiant.
I have a fire flowing through my veins and a light burning bright in my soul. It’s who I was made to be. I wasn’t meant to hide it.
What would happen if we stopped critiquing our (and other’s) worth by our pictures?
What if we chose to see the whole person behind the image in the photo instead of just what society has brainwashed us to notice?
What if we could offer ourselves a little more grace and compassion and a little less shame and judgment?
As much as I loved the way I looked in that electric blue dress, I love who I’ve become as a woman, a wife, and a friend more in the less physically flattering photo.
One year later, as I look back at that same photograph, I don’t have the same emotional reaction to it. I have more grace for the woman in that photo, knowing how far she has come in the past year and in this lifetime.
Instead of pasty thighs and not-so-toned arms, I see a women who has come a long way, a woman who has grown and transformed, a woman who has been strengthened and anointed, a woman who loves and who is loved more deeply than ever before. I see a beautiful, beaming woman who is becoming more comfortable with and less apologetic about who she is.
I hope that reading this invites you to shift your mindset.
I hope it gives you a new, more life-giving perspective to consider about your body.
I hope it gives you the courage to see the whole person, not just the perfectly edited, cropped and curated version of yourself that shows up in photos.
Writing posts like this takes a lot out of me because, in them, I am exposed. I’m not hiding behind success, accomplishments or a pretty smile.
I’m sharing anything but the highlight reel because it matters more to me to be real.
If this resonated with you, I’d love to hear from you below or by email. Send me a photo from your journey that has a story behind it even if you don’t love the picture itself (connect (at) rachelsnourishingkitchen.com). I’m honored to walk alongside you on this journey of discovery, acceptance and grace.